Bell-ringers return: Outcry prompts change, Belk welcomes back Salvation Army

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Joyce Matthews came to Belk Monday morning with a purpose.

“I was going in to tell the manager how disappointed I was that Belk wasn’t supporting the Salvation Army,” Matthews said. “I am an elite customer cardholder at Belk, but when I heard the news, I was going to take my business elsewhere.”

Matthews was not alone. Hundreds of Wilsonians — and thousands of shoppers throughout the Southeast — expressed their outrage with Belk after news that charitable contributions would be taken at the register as part of a Home for the Holidays campaign with Habitat for Humanity in lieu of the Salvation Army’s red kettles being placed outside the stores.

“As you know, Belk decided to focus our giving this holiday season with our Home for the Holidays campaign, and during the process of making that commitment stronger, we mistakenly left out the Salvation Army at some stores,” said Belk public relations manager Tyler Hampton in a statement Monday. “But we have fixed that. We have had a long relationship with the Salvation Army, and they are absolutely welcome at all of our 294 stores.

“And they will certainly be a part of our community commitment moving forward.”

Gary Proffitt, chairman of the social services and communications division for the local Salvation Army, fielded many calls over the weekend after news spread about the chapter facing a $11,000 loss in contributions without the kettle at Belk, which usually has the most donations. In fact, when he initially heard about a tweet from Belk announcing it was reversing its position, he said he thought it was a joke.

“Over the weekend, our customers were loud and clear about their passion for the Salvation Army. And when our customers speak, we listen,” Hampton said. “We wanted to address those comments where the conversation was taking place, so we issued a social media response and community this update to regional Salvation Army contacts.

“The Salvation Army was always going to be a part of our community strategy in the future. We are just making sure they are part of the present as well.”

When news of the change was confirmed, Proffitt rearranged his schedule so he could ring the bell at Belk all day Monday.

“It is so good to be back,” he said. “Thank you, God.”

Teresa J. Kirby dropped a donation into the kettle Monday morning after she finished shopping at Belk.

“I didn’t really know it was an issue, but you really expect to see the bell-ringers at all the major stores,” she said. “The bell-ringers are a part of Christmas.”

Following a Saturday story in The Wilson Times about the issue, local Salvation Army officials received an outpouring of support from volunteers and companies interested in matching donations.

“On Saturday, we had people putting twenties into the kettles in light of the news. Someone gave a $1,000 check to Gracie’s and she told him to deposit the check into the kettle,” Proffitt said. “And even though Belk is back, the need is still there. We have 100 more families we’re helping this Christmas than last and we need the support from the community.”

In 2016, the local Salvation Army surpassed its $75,000 campaign goal, reaching $81,000 in donations. To meet the growing needs of the Wilson community and provide for the additional families, the goal has been increased to $100,000 this year, but Proffitt said donations have been lagging.

Dr. Wallace Nelms was one of many Monday morning Belk shoppers who rejoiced at the company change and dropped money into the iconic red kettle.

“The Salvation Army does great work year-round,” he said. “I know the money they receive goes to help those in need here in Wilson.”

To volunteer for the Salvation Army or make a donation, call 252-243-2696.

“I’m very glad the management at Belk came to their senses,” Matthews concluded.